Whitestown approves community funding for workforce shuttle

Industrial property owners along Interstate 65 in Whitestown have successfully petitioned for a new tax-like funding structure to provide more than 650 employees a month with a ride to work.

The Whitestown Town Council on Wednesday approved a 2,000-acre Economic Improvement District on either side of I-65 to pay for a portion of the Whitestown Connecter’s continued operations. The exact rate at which property taxes would increase has yet to be approved by a board of owners and town representatives, but the suggested 5 cents on every $100 of assessed value is expected to generate approximately $235,000 in funding each year.

That money will go toward the expected $240,000 in costs associated with running the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority’s Whitestown Connector.

CIRTA first launched the $1-per-ride shuttle service in 2015 as part of a three-year, non-renewable federal grant. It cost about $200,000 each year to run the shuttle from the IndyGo stop at the Trader’s Point shopping center on West 86th Street to the dense employment center in Whitestown.

Nathan Messer, assistant town manager for Whitestown, said Whitestown subsidized the shuttle with $40,000 each year, Amazon paid $60,000 and the federal grant money covered the rest. When the grant expired in 2018, Whitestown stepped in to pay $130,000 and local businesses continued to subsidize the shuttle.

More than 65% of those 47 property owners in the district, representing 63% of the area’s assessed value, supported the creation of a new Economic Improvement District to keep the connector running.

“Over 80% of our employees are brought in for southern Boone County, and (businesses) are having issues with meeting workforce demands. We need public transportation,” Messer said.

Though it might be an investment in future jobs, the coverage helps prevent a gap in public transportation that could have cost people their jobs—especially those seasonal jobs created by Amazon’s fulfillment center, Messer said.

“We’d heard from Amazon employees, if the route didn’t continue, they were going to lose 300 workers immediately who wouldn’t be able to get to work,” said Whitestown spokeswoman Tanya Sumner.

Industrial property owners in the district—including Duke Realty, PTS Diagnostics Real Estate Holdings, Strategic Capital Partners and Indiana Becknell Investors—will start paying into the 10-year district fund at the start of 2020.

Agricultural and residential properties now in the district will not have to pay the additional taxes. Messer said they were included in the district now because the town’s comprehensive plan envisions that area later becoming more industrial.

With a potential $235,000 per year collected each year and Amazon’s continued annual commitment of $60,000, the district’s board will have funding beyond the connector’s estimated $240,000 cost to pay for items like flyers and job fairs that promote employment in Whitestown, Messer said.

The board will also consider changes to the route itself, including new stops and shelters.

“This is a great example of how transit supports job growth,” said Bill Ehret, CIRTA board chair and principal/managing director of the Indianapolis office of real estate firm Avison Young. “Without reliable transportation, businesses can’t hire enough workers, and people have tremendous obstacles in getting to job opportunities.”

CIRTA also operates Workforce Connectors in north and south Plainfield.

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